The Celebrity Collector
Corbin Bernsen has an enormous collection
of snow globes nearly 7,000!
By Ken Hall
Corbin Bernsen traces his snow globe collection to his days on L.A. Law
(1986-1994), the enormously popular television series on which he played the
opportunistic divorce lawyer Arnie Becker. "I used to travel around the country
promoting the show," he said, "and someone once gave me a snow globe as a gift.
I liked it and decided to keep an eye out for others just as nice. I would bring
them home and display them in an old pine hutch that had once belonged to my
By the time L.A. Law had run its course, Bernsen estimates he'd
collected about 30-40 snow globes. Some were presents, others he bought. His
first purchase was made in 1990, when he was out shopping with his wife, the
British actress/designer Amanda Pays. "We were in a shop in Pasadena, and I saw
this snow globe with a black child eating watermelon," he recalled. "It was a
snow globe, but it was also a piece of black memorabilia. I decided to buy it,
but I was taken back by the price $240."
The purchase enlightened Bernsen
to the fact that snow globes even ones that don't dovetail into another genre
are highly collectible, and that vintage snow globes are the most rare and
collectible. After that, Bernsen was hooked. He began buying up single pieces
and entire collections even running an ad in the local paper: "Prominent
celebrity looking to buy your vintage snow globes." Predictably, he was swamped
by callers wanting a chance to rub elbows with a star.
"People were amazed
that I would drive out to their house to see their snow globes, but that's how
dedicated I was, and still am, to building a truly complete collection," he
said. To date, Bernsen has a staggering 6,000+ snow globes maybe 7,000, he
lost count a long time ago. Most are in storage in a warehouse, awaiting a fate
that is still being pondered. "Next time we move, I'll consider how we might
exhibit them in the house. Or, maybe we'll open a shop, to share
Bernsen said he typically stays away from the newer snow globes, with
Lucite panels inside. Some of his pieces date back to the turn of the century
("They were made in Germany then, mostly as paperweights and Christmas-themed
gift items"). A few in his collection were made by Atlas, the acknowledged first
serious maker of snow globes, in Germany around 1900.
Many of Bernsen's snow
globes are from the 1930s and '40s, when they were popular as advertising items
and promotional giveaways. The ads appeared on the base of the piece, while the
scenes inside the globe with paraffin wax for snow falling on intricately
crafted figures and landscapes made a striking impact. Heinz ketchup,
cigarette makers, old tractor companies and moving firms all used snow globes to
advertise their products.
A few unusual pieces in Bernsen's collection
include a Batman snow globe from around the time of the television show (one of
two known to exist); several made by a Canadian woman, with each globe scene
telling its own little story (Bernsen paid $250 each for the one-of-a-kinds);
and one that wasn't a snow globe at all, but a little girl's attempt to make one
by hand. "It was a Pocahontas doll in a jar of water basically," he said. "I
thought it was adorable and offered her $20 for it."
The story behind one of
Bernsen's snow globes is so odd and unusual it actually made the news, in the
U.S. and Canada. It began with a 26-year-old Montreal man named Kyle MacDonald
who was tired of renting and decided he wanted to buy a house. He had a problem,
though: no money. So he decided he would start with something he did have a
single red paper clip sitting on his desk at home and see if he could trade it
online and keep trading up until he could trade for a house.
It was a heady
dream, but it actually worked, and in only 14 trades. The first trade was modest
he only got a pen that looked like a fish for his red paper clip. He traded
the pen for a handmade doorknob from a potter in Seattle. Some trades later, he
was the proud owner of a Bombardier snowmobile, which he got from a Montreal
radio host. He traded that for an afternoon with rock star Alice Cooper, which
he then traded for a snow globe that had the logo for the rock group KISS
By this time, Mac-Donald's trades had made the papers in Canada, and
word of the KISS snow globe reached Bernsen's ear. He offered MacDonald a part
in his next film, a thriller with a twist called "Donna on Demand," in return
for the globe. MacDonald accepted, then traded the part in the movie to the
small town of Kipling, in Canada, which offered him a farmhouse in return.
Bernsen traveled to Kipling for an open cast call, where local resident Nolan
Hubbard secured a part in "Donna on Demand."
Corbin Bernsen was born in North
Hollywood, Calif., on Jan. 7, 1954. He was raised around the glitz of the
entertainment business, the eldest of three children born to Harry Bernsen (a
television and film producer) and Jeanne Cooper (a veteran soap opera star who
still appears on The Young and the Restless). His parents divorced in 1977.
Bernsen graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1972 and attended UCLA with
the ideas of pursuing a career in law.
Instead, he went on to receive a
Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre arts, and a Master of Fine Arts in playwriting.
He made his film debut in one of his father's pictures (Three the Hard Way,
1974). But even his high-profile parents couldn't guarantee him instant success
and fame, or even work. In those early days, he eked out a living as a carpenter
and roofer. He also sidelined as a model.
Bernsen's big break came in 1983
when he was cast as Ken Graham on the daytime soap, Ryan's Hope. During this
time he also met and married Brenda Cooper, a TV costume designer who later
worked on The Nanny sitcom). The couple divorced after two years of marriage. In
1986, his real breakthrough came when he landed the part on L.A. Law (becoming a
lawyer after all, if only on television!). He also appeared in the '80s films
Hello Again (1987), and Disorganized Crime (1989).
In 1989, Bernsen played a
ballplayer-and-team-owner in the hit movie Major League, with Charlie Sheen and
Tom Berenger. Two sequels followed. From 1990 to the present, Bernsen has
appeared in numerous films and on TV. He had recurring roles on two soap operas:
The Young and the Restless (with mom), and General Hospital, on which he played
John Durant. He appeared twice on the reality program Celebrity Mole, and has
had recurring or starring roles on The West Wing, JAG and Cuts.
Bernsen stars in the successful TV series Psyche, on which he plays a hard-nosed
retired police detective whose son pretends to be a psychic. He commutes to
Vancouver, Canada, to film the show, which airs on the USA Network. He's been
married to Amanda Pays since 1988; the couple has four children, including twin
sons. In their spare time, the Bernsens buy, restore and resell homes. They've
renovated an amazing 16 homes in 18 years, with Bernsen doing much of the
In 1995, they redid a Beverly Hills estate and sold it to
Steve Martin for nearly $4 million. Amanda also has her own line of elegantly
mod upholstered furniture, which she sells through Atlanta-based Directions. Her
celebrity client list includes Nicholas Cage (who has her York sofa and chairs),
and First Lady Laura Bush (who bought a set of Hastings chairs for the family
ranch in Texas). The Bernsens also collect artwork, including works by Martin
Kane of Scotland and Gustavo Rosa of Brazil.
Fans of Corbin Bernsen may write
to the star c/o Public Media Works, 14749 Oxnard Street, Van Nuys, CA 91411.
Corbin Bernsen has a
Hollywood pedigree. His dad
was a TV and film producer,
and his mom is a regular on TV's The Young and the Restless.
These snow globes represent a tiny portion of Bernsen's vast collection. Most
of the nearly 7,000 pieces are boxed and in storage.
Kyle MacDonald (right) started out with a single red paper clip and was able
to trade up to a KISS snow globe (which he traded to Corbin, left)
and, ultimately, a house in Canada.
(R.) Disney was wise to hop onto the popularity of snow globes.
titled "Parade of
Wooden Soldiers," features a moving train outside the
Snow globes were first manufactured in France and Germany in the 19th
Many, like this one, had a Christmas theme.
Numerous books, like this one by Connie Moore and Harry Rinker, have been
written about snow globes, attesting to their
popularity as a collectible.